UK - The UK government is facing opposition from local authorities across the capital to proposals that would allow developers to convert commercial real estate into residential without additional planning permission.

A body representing 33 London local authorities has written to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) urging it to rethink its proposed loosening of planning processes.

The London Councils' letter - its contribution to a consultation process initiated by the DCLG - claimed local authorities would face a shortfall in infrastructure investment because developers are usually obliged to fund social infrastructure as a condition of planning permission.

A spokeswoman for the organisation said it had yet to receive any indication from central government of how the local infrastructure shortfall would be met.
Although it was unable to provide any evidence for the assertion, London Councils also claimed businesses would likely cash in on residential, thereby reducing local employment opportunities.

The letter said: "Because commercial land is cheaper than residential land, suspending these planning rules would create an incentive to turn businesses into homes - but it would also remove the responsibility of developers to ensure the needs of local residents are met."

In its own response, the Corporation of London, which administers the City, said the proposals represented a "significant threat to the City's role as the world's leading international finance and business centre".

Describing the proposal as "unrealistic", it added that the loss of existing office stock would dilute the concentration of office-based activities that gave the City a "critical mass".

It said in its submission: "Uncontrolled conversion of office space to residential use would have the unintended consequence of threatening the City as a strategically important employment centre.

"Some office vacancy is a normal and desirable part of an efficient office market, and so it should not be assumed that such offices would be better converted to housing."
A spokeswoman for London Councils said: "Boroughs, the Greater London Authority [the municipal government] and the City all oppose the proposed changes, so we'd hope this would have an impact."